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bear by san

March 2017

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lion in winter dead

Evidence of absence

I just found out that somebody who was very special to me when I was a student passed away last month. Douglas F. Jordan, professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, Connecticut's first State Anthropologist, a humane and funny and generous man who never remembered a student because he might have to forget an australopithecine.

He hated the term "hunter-gatherers," insisting that "appropriator" was a more accurate description of such cultures. He once circled the word "desertification" in a paper of mine and wrote "ooo! good word!" in the margin in red pen. He had a sense of humor that only about a fifth of his students laughed at (we thought he was hysterical; he was very, very, very dry), and a yellow Labrador, and wispy white flyaway hair. When I asked him to be my advisor, he turned me down because he was retiring, but he kept teaching classes as an emeritus professor. He taught me about potsherds and battleship diagrams and that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

He taught me to question my own cultural assumptions, and never to assume that the narrative I thought I was seeing was the correct one. He taught me that you don't dig a whole site, because in fifty years they'll have better tools for analysis, and if you've destroyed all the evidence with your primitive methods, it won't do anybody a damned bit of good. He taught me that middens are the best place to learn the truth about people.

I loaned him my copy of Motel of Mysteries, and in return he gave me "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema."

I hadn't talked with him since I left school. He probably thought I was smart but flighty, and didn't apply myself.

He would have been right.

Good teacher. Good man.

*

Comments

*sympathies*

My English advisor died in 1997, and I still miss him.

I had some damned fine teachers.

Damned fine.

(and thank you for your comment. I am shocked by how much this hurts. He taught me how to *think.*)
They are, in their own way, as much our 'parents' as those who raised us and sent us off to college originally...

(this triggered my own memories -- http://suricattus.livejournal.com/546452.html)
This makes me think about the three sections of fuzzy-headed undergrads I'm currently teaching intro archaeology to, and wonder whether I'll ever manage to make this kind of impact on someone.

I can hope. But there's something to be said, too, for the students that make the effort worthwhile.
Many teachers had a profound impact on my life and there was really no way for them to know it at the time - and in most cases neither did I.

As I began teaching, I found the most obscure memories coming back of how "this teacher did that, that teacher did this", and learning to appreciate all of them for at minimum helping me be a better teacher.
Yeah. I wonder about my fifth grade teacher too. And a few other professors and high school teachers and one teacher I had in third grade...
Try being really, really passionate about teaching them entirely new thought paradigms. *g* It worked for Doug!
I HEART Motel of Mysteries.

Sorry to hear about losing your teacher. I often wonder about my favourite teachers, especially as they get older....if the news will be passed on to me.
Another one I adored seems to have vanished from the face of the internets.

I wonder....
I"m sorry for your loss. Your words convey such admiration. Teachers *can* be so vital, and the best teachers' lessons can carry on with us throughout our lives beyond the material they taught us. I have several friends who are new teachers and I have great hopes for them and their students. They are astounding people.

Peace.
~Clare
Thank you.

And good luck to them!!!
I only had the one class with Doug Jordan -- Intro to Archaeology -- but he fundamentally changed the way I think about proof, evidence and provinance, and yes, that absence of evidence is not evicence of absence.

One of his slides -- from a dig in Windsor -- is the source of a story about the peculiar footprints of man that I still tell today. Parallel whorls of yellow subsoil curving up into the topsoil of a meadow. The team's exploratory trench was, by sheer luck, perpendicular to the lines of a field that had been plowed excatly once, ever.

Rest in Peace Doctor Jordan. We listened and we learned. We will carry on.
Yeah.

Thank you, Doctor Jordan.
*hugs* My sympathies. And empathies, for that matter.

(Actually, your description of him is rather reminiscent of Dr. M. Which is a Good Thing, really.)
I think many good teachers are Of A Type. Which does not mean there are enough of them, because we need all we can get.

But still.
Maybe I'll see if I can locate a couple of them and send them thank you notes.

I bet they would like that.
When my undergraduate anthropology professor* died, in 1996, it was my first time grieving someone as an adult. I was stunned by how hard it hit me, how difficult it was for me to catch my breath afterwards, and for how long. I still miss her.

It's a good eulogy.


* Professor Carol MacCormack, who, a great many Bryn Mawr College students said shone with Divine Light. She died at fifty, before her own mentor and inspiration, Frederica DiLaguna, who was a generation older.
Oh dear. I am so sorry.
Oh. I didn't mean to hijack your grieving for my own. All I meant was - I know a little bit of what this is like, and I'm sorry.
*gentle hugs*
*hug*
a humane and funny and generous man who never remembered a student because he might have to forget an australopithecine

That is a lovely tribute, and I mean that most wholeheartedly. He sounds like a really, really good one.
He really, really was. And thank you.
{{{hugs}}}

It's always hard to lose an inspiration, no matter how distant. Speaking of which, I just heard Ann Richards passed away. :-(
Yeah, that was my second bummer for the morning. suricattus had a lovely post.

*hug*
My condolences :(

That was a wonderful tribute. It made me feel sad not to have known him myself.